A Decade of Success Implementing Learning-Focused at Turnaround Schools
Dr. Anna DeWese is a veteran principal in Florida with a reputation for outstanding support and commitment to students. As a Principal of the Year finalist, Dr. DeWese has a successful history with turnaround schools and taking them from a D or an F to a B and higher.
Dr. DeWese has worked with Learning-Focused across multiple districts, and has effectively implemented the Learning-Focused Instructional Framework in every school she has served in as principal for the last ten years.
Early Success as a First-Year Principal
Dr. DeWese first became principal at one of the lowest-performing schools in her district. As a new principal, she brought in two trainings: the first was a framework for understanding poverty, and the second was a series of books from Dr. Max Thompson.
The school continued to work with Dr. Thompson. As a result, the year they implemented the full Learning-Focused Instructional Framework, their school grade turned from a D to an A. Initially, the school allowed teachers to determine who would go through the training, and they began with Math.
“It was so powerful,” commented Dr. DeWese. “We only started with a certain group of teachers instead of beginning school-wide. We didn’t know if everyone would follow.”
Math scores subsequently went through the roof. Once the teachers saw the kids change with Math, they turned to implement Learning-Focused with ELA.
“At the end of the year, we had so much growth, it was amazing,” says Dr. DeWese.
Successful School Turnaround Strategies: Tips for Implementing Learning-Focused
Dr. DeWese was soon promoted to the district level, in charge of turnaround schools because of her success. She was promoted to other schools in the district and brought Learning-Focused with her.
“When those schools started improving, it was a telltale sign that Learning-Focused works,” says Dr. DeWese. “The success we had was not an anomaly.”
As Dr. DeWese continued to get promoted and move into new schools, she continued implementing Learning-Focused training and maintaining the program.
Here are five tips she gave for helping turnaround schools see success:
Communicate the Vision
“When you want to shift the culture, everyone has to understand the vision. That is Number One. And if you’re not impacting student learning, it doesn’t matter what programs you use.” Dr. DeWese was adamant about the importance of expectations for teaching and learning and communicating them from the very beginning of the year. When she started at a brand-new school, her first introduction was through the Welcome Back letter. “Everyone on the leadership team is empowered to speak that vision as well,” explains DeWese.
Progress over Perfection
Go slow to go fast—this was the mantra Dr. DeWese used when it seemed like they were only inching forward. “There is no template. It’s a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” affirms DeWese. “We didn’t do anything fancy; we just focused on planning the whole year and backing up to the standards. It doesn’t matter how good a training program is. If there is no opportunity to use it in the classroom, you lose it. Be consistent to turn the ship,” she advises.
Backwards Planning is Key
Plan the assessment first. “Planning the assessment first, backed up to the standards, and just makes everything a whole lot easier,” counsels DeWese. “Every time I talked to a teacher, and their lesson didn’t go according to plan, I would ask, ‘How did you plan for your formative assessment?’ Without fail, they would admit they didn’t plan for it.” DeWese continues, “I didn’t allow for that. Planning comes first.” High-performing lesson plan design, backward thinking, formative assessments, and sticking with high-yield strategies in the classroom allowed teachers to become more thoughtful with planning.
Regarding resistance with veteran teachers, DeWese mentions that they often feel like Instructional Framework training is something that will go away and not stick. However, when they see that school leaders are taking the course alongside teachers, understanding what teachers are going through, and building a connection, it becomes something that they find value in. “It helps if the principal not only requires teachers to do the training, but also does it as well,” states DeWese. In addition, strategic conversations and opportunities for ongoing learning using distributed professional development throughout the year kept the teachers focused and committed.
Learning is the Focus
This is about so much more than improving a school’s grade. Instead, DeWese suggests, “Base it on two things: how do you want your teachers to teach, and how do you want your kids to learn.”
“Learning-Focused will be my go-to resource forever and ever. If you plan effectively, you’ll teach effectively, and the kids will learn what they need to.”